Cooper Stinson threw two perfect pitches to Gray Betts to start the game.
After Duke's starting pitcher hummed two fastballs on the outside corner past Betts to put Liberty's leadoff hitter in an 0-2 hole, Stinson tossed a waste pitch nearly a foot off the plate. Stinson did get Betts to chase, but the Raleigh native somehow made contact, and hit a blooper that landed just over the glove of Blue Devil shortstop Ethan Murray for a base hit.
The next pitch, Stinson left a fastball over the middle for Flames' slugger Jonathan Embry, who would not let Stinson's mistake go unpunished. Embry belted the pitch for his ninth home run of the season, giving Liberty a 2-0 lead just four pitches into the game.
The Flames would not relinquish their lead for the remainder of the evening, and cruised to a 9-3 victory against Duke Wednesday at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Stinson earned the loss for the Blue Devils, and was taken out in the second inning after a two-out rally from Liberty.
"We've got to do a better job of getting off the field in the second inning," Duke head coach Chris Pollard told GoDuke.com. "It was a cue shot, two-strike hit on a pitch that we executed, but so what. He's at first base now, and we had to make one pitch to get off the field, but we made about 30 pitches after that."
Down 6-0 in the fourth inning, the Blue Devils (28-19) would not go down without a fight. Murray led off the bottom of the fourth with the first home run of his career, a moonshot over the left field fence. Walks from Kyle Gallagher and Michael Rothenberg set Duke up to get it back in the game.
But after working the count full, Rudy Maxwell chased a pitch in the dirt, ending the rally, and allowing the Flames (33-15) to escape the frame with a 6-1 advantage.
"We swung at some pitches out of the zone in some situations where they were prepared to give us free offense," Pollard said. "We perhaps could have played for a big inning that would put us back in it."
While Liberty did tally nine runs and 13 hits, there were some bright spots among the Blue Devil pitching staff. Jack Carey entered the game with nobody out and two runners on, and held the Flames to just one run in the inning. The freshman right-hander then retired the side in the fifth on just five pitches.
Al Pesto also impressed out of the bullpen, and allowed no runs to the meat of Liberty's order in the eighth.
"Both those guys threw terrific," Pollard said. "I thought that Jack did a great job of minimizing in the fourth, and came in and gave us a clean fifth. Pesto came in and gave us a clean eighth...I thought Al's stuff looked really good."
Duke will return to action Friday with a weekend series against No. 10 Georgia Tech, also at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The Blue Devils will look to win their fifth consecutive ACC series, and further bolster its resume for the NCAA tournament.
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